The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

New NLRB election at TTH?

Sep 10, 2001

The NLRB issued a complaint against Toledo Hospital at the end of August, accusing it of “interfering with the employees right to a free and fair election.” This stems from a UAW organizing drive which started over a year ago, culminating in a union representation election in April which the UAW lost.

Among other things, the NLRB said that there was evidence that the hospital had promised to withhold pay and benefits if the union won and that it conducted improper surveillance and interrogation of employees.

Hospital management certainly did use almost every dirty trick in the book – and not just the ones the NLRB found evidence for. But this was not the whole story of the union’s loss.

If those dirty tricks worked, it was in part because the union drive was carried out in the fashion typical of unions these days: that is, workers were asked to sign a card, then, when enough signatures were gained, eventually to go vote. What it did not do was give the workers any real reason for keeping their allegiance steadfast.

During all the months the union drive was going on, the hospital continued to attack workers. Even when it was trying to pretend it was the workers’ best friend, its actions proved otherwise. There were plenty of things the workers who were pulled into the union organizing drive could have done to organize against the hospital’s actions. Over 300 workers signed the original statement declaring themselves an organizing committee. Even a quarter of those workers could have been the nucleus needed to bring other workers inside the hospital to fight on the problems immediately facing them. That would have gone a long way toward proving that the hospital’s scandal-mongering attacks on the union were nothing but a pack of lies.

What now?

The union originally collected signatures from almost two-thirds of the workers in the hospital. Even though the original election lost, there has to be a large residue of support for the idea that the workers want their own union – all the more so since as soon as the union drive was over, management dropped its “friendly face” mask, revealing itself once again for the ogre it had always been.

The NLRB hearing will be on October 1. If the NLRB law judge is to rule according to what the hospital did, he or she will certainly rule in favor of the workers who want a union. But that’s only the beginning. There still will be another election. And the hospital is apt to appeal any finding that awards the union another chance at an election. The best way for those workers who want a union to get it is to begin acting as though they already have it. Answering management’s attacks by pulling people together to respond not only will prepare for the election, when and if it ever comes, but it will also set up a functioning union in the workplace, regardless of how all these rulings go.

The NLRB ruling affects only support workers, that is housekeepers, cafeteria and laundry workers, as well as some clerical and secretarial workers; and laboratory, radiology, operating room technicians as well as licensed practical nurses. But nothing prevents other workers who want a union from working now to put it in place and make it function.

It lies in the hands of the Toledo Hospital workers whether or not they have their union. No one can take from them what they are ready to build themselves.